Sam Altman is heading back to OpenAI – Here are other ‘Boomerang’ CEOs who left and returned


Sam Altman has said he will return as the CEO of OpenAI after a tumultuous week of hirings, firings and board shake-ups at the artificial intelligence startup and ChatGPT parent, adding the co-founder to a list of “boomerang” company leaders who’ve made comebacks after walking away from the executive suite.
OpenAI CEO Samuel Altman Testifies To Senate Committee On Rules For Artificial Intelligence

Samuel Altman, CEO of OpenAI, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law on May 16, 2023.

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Key Takeaways
  • Altman has reached a tentative deal for his return to the company, Open AI announced early Wednesday, in a move that also includes the return of co-founder Greg Brockman and a new “initial board”—just five days after the company’s old board abruptly fired him.
  • It took longer than five days, but Robert Iger returned as the CEO of Disney last November after the sudden ouster of his hand-picked successor, Robert Chapek—Iger initially left his role in 2020 after 15 years as Disney’s CEO, but returned in 2022 with the task of setting a “strategic direction for renewed growth” following the entertainment giant’s pandemic woes.
  • Sergio Ermotti is currently serving as the CEO of UBS for the second time—he served in the role for nine years from 2011 until 2020 and was replaced by Ralph Hamers, but returned this spring to handle the Swiss bank’s takeover of failed rival Credit Suisse.
  • Billionaire Michael Dell left the CEO position at his company, Dell Inc., in 2004 to serve as chairman of the board, but returned as chief in 2007 and later led a merger with EMC Corporation to create Dell Technologies, of which he still serves as CEO today.
  • Katrina Lake returned as CEO of StitchFix, the shopping-by-mail clothing company she founded and led from 2010 to 2021, in January of this year before stepping down again in June to be replaced by former Macy’s digital chief Matt Baer.
  • Michael Bloomberg, currently the 11th richest person in the world, served as CEO of his media and financial company Bloomberg L.P. from its 1981 founding through 2001, when he resigned to serve three terms as New York City mayor, before returning from 2014 until earlier this year, when he was replaced by Vlad Kliatchko.
  • Billionaire Howard Schultz stepped down as the CEO of Starbucks in March for the third time; he first served as the coffee brand’s chief executive from 1986 to 2000 and returned from 2008 to 2017, only to make a second comeback as interim CEO in April of 2022 until his replacement, Laxman Narasimhan, could be found.
  • Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, also a billionaire, enjoyed two stints as CEO of the social media platform—he was its first chief executive from 2006 to 2008 and then served as CEO again from 2015 to 2021, when he was replaced by Parag Agrawal, who was fired when Elon Musk purchased the company.
  • For all but one of its first 37 years, the Charles Schwab Corporation was led by its namesake founder: He was CEO from 1971 to 1998, shared the title with David Pottruck from 1998 to 2003 and gave it to Pottuck for a single year before returning from 2004 to 2008.
Surprising Fact

Apple’s Steve Jobs had one of the most iconic returns to the company he founded back in 1997, but he isn’t technically a boomerang CEO. When Jobs first left Apple in 1985, he wasn’t its chief executive. The founder was pushing Apple toward personal computers in the mid 1980s and left the company when then-CEO John Sculley failed to support the change in direction. Jobs left to found rival company NeXT—and hit billionaire status while he was gone thanks to his investments in Pixar—but returned as CEO in 1997. He resigned just before his death in 2011.

Key Background

Altman’s return as CEO may be the swiftest ever seen. He was unexpectedly removed from his position on Friday in a decision by the board citing a review that found he was “not consistently candid in his communications with the board.” The move was swiftly criticized and, within hours, co-founder Greg Brockman announced he’d be following Altman out the door. By Monday, Altman and Brockman had been hired to lead Microsoft’s AI research unit and, the same day, 95% of OpenAI’s employees signed a letter threatening to quit unless Altman was reinstated. The company’s new board of directors includes Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers as new members, and Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo as a holdover.

Forbes Valuation

A number of boomerang CEOs are among the richest people in the world. Michael Bloomberg is currently ranked No. 11 on Forbes’ real-time billionaires list with an estimated net worth of $96.3 billion. Michael Dell is the 16th richest person on Earth with $68.9 billion, Charles Schwab has a net worth of $8.6 billion, Jack Dorsey is worth an estimated $3.9 billion and Howard Schultz has a personal fortune of $3.3 billion.

This article was first published on and all figures are in USD.

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